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From gritty, realistic fiction guaranteed to kick you in the gut to vivid fantasies with multi-dimensional characters we can’t get enough of to historical tales—both fiction and nonfiction—that bring the past to life, 2015 was another great year for YA literature. And there are still a few promising titles we haven’t yet had time to read, such as Nova Ren Suma’s literary ghost story The Walls Around Us and Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, a powerhouse debut that seems to have everyone talking. I only recently got a hold of copies, so I’ll have to let you know my thoughts on those later.
But my absolute favorite so far? Currently, I am leaning toward Bone Gap, but that may only be because it was the last YA title I finished and because I loved the mythology parallels and the kick-butt ending, which left me grinning like a fool with its perfection. I also loved (loved, loved, loved) The Hired Girl, and I can’t wait to read the next Ember in the Ashes book when it releases in August. But this year’s list is not just about what I’ve read and loved. This year, there have been three other committee members reading and evaluating along with me, so I think this is likely our most well-rounded list of annual Best Books for Teens selections yet!
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely When Rashad, an innocent sixteen-year-old, is wrongly accused of stealing, classmate Quinn witnesses his brutal beating at the hands of a police officer who happens to be the older brother of his best friend. This is a gritty, powerful, and thought-provoking book, told through Rashad and Quinn’s alternating viewpoints.
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven Finch is in a constant struggle to remain awake, obsessively reinventing himself in attempts to ground himself in reality. Violet is sunk in a deep depression following the death of her older sister. But after each climbs on the ledge of the school bell tower to consider ending it all, they are bonded. Taking a school project above and beyond, they roam rural Indiana, taking in oddball sights and discovering hope in each other and sights they take in. This is a well crafted picture of depression and mental illness as well as an absorbing, unusual love story sure to appeal to fans of The Fault in Our Stars and Eleanor and Park.
Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein Having moved to Ethiopia to avoid the prejudices of 1930s America, Emilia Menotti, her black adoptive brother Teo, and their mother Rhoda, a stunt pilot, are devoted to their new country even after war with Italy looms, drawing the teens into the conflict. –NoveList
Bone Gap by Laura Ruby Eighteen-year-old Finn, an outsider in his quiet Midwestern town, is the only witness to the abduction of town favorite Roza, but his inability to distinguish between faces makes it difficult for him to help with the investigation, and subjects him to even more ridicule and bullying. –NoveList
Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman It’s almost like Caden is living in two worlds simultaneously. There’s the “real” life with his family, his friends, and school, but that life seems increasingly dangerous and confusing. He is having a hard time understanding his own thoughts—who he is and why he does what he does. Then there is Caden’s voyage on a bizarre ship to the Marianas Trench and his mission to reach the deepest point in the ocean. There is a captain he can’t trust, an oddball crew, and a scheming parrot whispering in his ear. But at least Caden feels like himself aboard the strange ship, even if nothing else makes sense there. But as the two worlds begin to bleed into one another, will Caden be able to separate what is real from what is not?
The Distance Between Lost and Found by Kathryn Holmes Sophomore Hallie Calhoun, her former friend Jonah, and new friend Rachel leave a church youth group hike in the Great Smoky Mountains and become lost for five days, struggling to survive as Hallie finally speaks about the incident that made her a social pariah and Jonah admits why it hurt him so much. –NoveList
Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy Sixteen-year-old Willowdean wants to prove to everyone in her small Texas town that she is more than just a fat girl, so, while grappling with her feelings for a co-worker who is clearly attracted to her, Will and some other misfits prepare to compete in the beauty pageant her mother runs. –NoveList
An Ember in the Ashes by Saaba Tahir Laia is a Scholar living under the iron-fisted rule of the Martial Empire. When her brother is arrested for treason, Laia goes undercover as a slave at the empire’s greatest military academy in exchange for assistance from rebel Scholars who claim that they will help to save her brother from execution. –Provided by the publisher
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon The story of a teenage girl who’s literally allergic to the outside world. When a new family moves in next door, she begins a complicated romance that challenges everything she’s ever known. The narrative unfolds via vignettes, diary entries, texts, charts, lists, illustrations, and more. –Provided by the publisher
The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz Fourteen-year-old Joan Skraggs chronicles her life in a journal when she leaves her family’s farm in Pennsylvania to work as a hired girl in Baltimore in the summer of 1911. –NoveList
The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell In Japan, teenaged Abe Sora, who is afflicted with “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” finds friends online and elicits their help to end his suffering.–NoveList
More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera After enduring his father’s suicide, his own suicide attempt, broken friendships, and more in the Bronx projects, Aaron Soto, sixteen, is already considering the Leteo Institute’s memory-alteration procedure when his new friendship with Thomas turns to unrequited love.–NoveList
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson (Graphic novel) Lord Blackheart, a villain with a vendetta, and his sidekick, Nimona, an impulsive young shapeshifter, must prove to the kingdom that Sir Goldenloin and the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren’t the heroes everyone thinks they are.–NoveList
Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen Sydney’s charismatic older brother, Peyton, has always been the center of attention in the family but when he is sent to jail, Sydney struggles to find her place at home and the world until she meets the Chathams, including gentle, protective Mac, who makes her feel seen for the first time. –NoveList
Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older When the murals painted on the walls of her Brooklyn neighborhood start to change and fade in front of her, Sierra Santiago realizes that something strange is going on–then she discovers her Puerto Rican family are shadowshapers and finds herself in a battle with an evil anthropologist for the lives of her family and friends. –NoveList
Trouble Is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie TromblyAfter her parents’ divorce, Zoe Webster moves from Brooklyn to upstate New York where she meets the weirdly compelling misfit, Philip Digby, and soon finds herself in a series of hilarious and dangerous situations as he pulls her into his investigation into the kidnapping of alocal teenage girl which may be related to the disappearance of his kid sister eight years ago.–NoveList
Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson A young woman who possesses a supernatural ability to sense the presence of gold disguises herself as a boy and seeks safety and romance in California. –NoveList
The Wrath & the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh In this reimagining of The Arabian Nights, Shahrzad plans to avenge the death of her dearest friend by volunteering to marry the murderous boy-king of Khorasan but discovers not all is as it seems within the palace. –NoveList
X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon Follows the childhood of the civil rights leader to his imprisonment at age twenty, where he found the faith that would lead him to his path towards activism and justice. –NoveList
The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club by Phillip Hoose The true story of small group of teenage boys in Denmark who organized a resistance after the Danish government conceded to Nazi occupation. BCPL copies on order.
Chernobyl’s Wild Kingdom: Life in the Dead Zone by Rebecca L. Johnson Looks at the events of the Chernobyl Nuclear Accident in the Ukraine, describing how scientists are monitoring the effects of radiation on the wildlife that continue to live there and what this means for the human population surrounding the area. –NoveList
Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans by Don Brown On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina’s monstrous winds and surging water overwhelmed the protective levees around low-lying New Orleans, Louisiana. Eighty percent of the city flooded, in some places under twenty feet of water. Property damages across the Gulf Coast topped $100 billion. One thousand eight hundred and thirty-three people lost their lives. The tale of this historic storm and the drowning of an American city is one of selflessness, heroism, and courage — and also of incompetence, racism, and criminality. Don Brown’s kinetic art and as-it-happens narrative capture both the tragedy and triumph of one of the worst natural disasters in American history. –NoveList
I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives by Caitlin Alifirenka & Martin Ganda with Liz Welch Heartwarming and inspiring, this is the story how how an unlikely, lifelong friendship developed between a 12-year-old white student in Pennsylvania and a 14-year-old in Zimbabwe. Over the years, Caitlin and Martin’s friendship shaped not only their own lives but also profoundly affected the lives of many of their friends and family. BCPL copies on order.
Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin A suspenseful and thought-provoking glimpse into the man who was labeled the most dangerous man in America after he released top-secret documents during the Vietnam War, and the events and repercussions of his actions.
Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakivich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson An account of the Siege of Leningrad reveals the role played by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich and his Leningrad Symphony in rallying and commemorating their fellow citizens. –NoveList
Tommy: The Gun That Changed America by Karen Blumenthal Examines the origins of America’s debate over gun control sparked by a practical gun intended for military use that became a weapon of choice for outlaws before Congress attempted to remove it from the streets. –NoveList
Did we include your favorite teen book of 2015? Have we convinced you to read something you had previously overlooked? Let us know in the comments!